Thursday, January 19, 2017

Translation: 2017 Seibu Lions rookies speak at camp

Seibu Lions rookies partake in exercises for rookie camp at Seibu II
All draft picks for the Saitama Seibu Lions moved into their dorms earlier this month to start a mandatory rookie camp at Seibu II. The Lions had six draft picks last October in Tatsuya Imai, Shunta Nakatsuka, Sosuke Genda, Shohei Suzuki, Katsunori Hirai and Ichiro Tamura.

When the rookies move in, its usually common to find out what items they took with them. Nakatsuka in particular brought a cup that said to "beware of metabolic syndrome" or don't get overweight. Imai and Suzuki had a Daruma with them.

As a special, the Lions uploaded a video showing some of the exercises and each rookie spoke about some early experiences. Here is what they said in a statement:

P Tatsuya Imai (今井 達也)

"Until now, I have spent most of the time practicing by myself, but I started working [with others], which was encouraging. Since [Shohei] Suzuki and I are the [high school graduates of the six rookies], I would like to [work hard enough to earn] my position."

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P Ichiro Tamura (田村 伊知郎)

"There [was] a lot more crowd coming to see us practicing, which was [a] first experience and made me realize I have become a professional player."

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IF Sosuke Genda (源田 壮亮)

"I hope I can join Ichi-gun training camp to compete with other shortstop players, so I want to spend January practicing steadily so I will not get injured."

Note: Ichi-gun training camp is located in Miyazaki prefecture while the ni-gun camp, which carries half of the team, is in Kochi prefecture. 

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P Katsunori Hirai (平井 克典)

"My priority is to focus on building my strength without rushing so I can join the Ichi-gun."

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P Shunta Nakatsuka (中塚 駿太)

"I felt really excited to play with the famous players I have seen on TV. I realized that I have become a professional when I was having a meal with [Takumi] Kuriyama-san."

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OF Shohei Suzuki (鈴木 将平)

"I was impressed when I shook hands with other players and found that their hands were thick and tight through hard work. I want to learn from them as much as possible to be a player who is seen in the same way from next year's rookies."

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Special thanks to @shiba_scope for translation help.  

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Lions players enjoy their time in Australia to end 2016

From left to right, trainer Kazuyoshi Ono, Keisuke Honda, Shogo Noda, Hitoto Komazuki and interpreter Machida-san.
Credit: Shogo Noda's Instagram
The Saitama Seibu Lions completed their 6th year of partnership with the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League by sending three players Down Under to work with the team for six weeks through November and December. 

For this season, it would be pitchers Keisuke Honda and Shogo Noda as well as outfielder Hitoto Komazuki making the trip with interpreter Machida-san and trainer Kazuyoshi Ono.  

While this was mostly a business trip for all three players, they entered the ABL season with goals in mind. Honda said he wanted to work on his changeup, while Noda was trying to fix his two-seam fastball for right handed hitters and shuuto for lefties. 

Noda had a blast from the past as two players from the Industrial Leagues were also playing in ABL with the Sydney Blue Sox. Catcher Yuki Yamazaki and left handed pitcher Ryoto Yoshikoshi were two players from a Honda Saitama team that Noda faced while he was with Seino Unyu (Seino Transportation).  He admitted he lost to Honda Saitama during his days in corporate ball. 

While in Australia, Noda saw a difference in how some pitches were more effective than others compared to being in NPB

"I threw more of an inside fast ball," Noda said. "Australians and Americans struggle with more inside pitches."

Noda finished the half-ABL season by going 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA through 8.2 innings pitched with eight strikeouts.  

Honda in particular has had a strong offseason. He was part of the Samurai Japan U23 team and won the U23 World Cup in Mexico prior to the trip in Australia. Honda would be a key starter while helping the team en route to a gold medal and championship. 

"It was my first time with the national team for Japan," Honda said. "I felt a big responsibility and was happy to be there. It was a great experience." 

In ABL, Honda dominated all five games he started by going 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA through 29.2 innings of work. He would also earn a shutout and two complete games which he benefited from playing the condensed 7-inning game in a given week.  

Honda noticed how there was more power among hitters away from Japan, where he had to be careful to not cough up a home run.  

For Komazuki, it would be the start of a new era in his career. After being an outfielder in the Lions farm team for five years, he has made the switch to catcher. 

"My goal was to practice out of the bullpen as much as I can," Komazuki said through interpreter Machida-san. "I will be a catcher for next season [and] it's a new challenge for me." 

This is Komazuki's first time being a catcher since his days in elementary school. He didn't participate in an ichi-gun game thus far in his NPB career. Komazuki spent time as a catcher for practice games and in the bullpen, but didn't play in an actual game for the Aces. He only appeared in the ABL All-Star game for the World team.  

With Takanori Hoshi no longer a player, Komazuki took his spot as a catcher on the 70-man roster. Hoshi is currently an trainer/ikusei coach for the Lions. 

Australia provided a different scenery for the three players. Hoshi provided some expertise from his time Down Under a year ago. 

"Takanori Hoshi told us to be careful about the weather," Noda said through Machida-san. "Sometimes it's really hot or cold."

All three players admitted they liked warm weather Down Under in what is traditionally a cool month in the Northern Hemisphere. Another fun quirk was eating kangaroo sausage which was a fresh take on food in Australia. 

Like Komazuki, Honda and Noda were allowed to be part of the World All-star team for the ABL All-Star game as it was in Melbourne. Honda didn't fare as well as the regular season, but it was a fun way to end the year and tenure in Australia.  

"It's unfortunate that I could not play as I had expected and did before the All-Star game," Honda said after the All-star game. "But I could find the points I have to improve on, so I would like to work hard to focus on them."

With this being Komazuki's only in-game action while in Australia, he admitted it was a different experience. 

"I was a little nervous as it's been quite a while since I played as a catcher in front of the crowd," Komazuki said. "I want to work hard so I play through the upcoming season playing as a catcher."

Noda allowed multiple base runners in the All-star game and conceded a run by a wild pitch. While disappointed at the game in the moment, he has one particular goal for 2017. 

"I will work hard so I can play with the Ichi-gun by [strengthening myself to pitching against] to lefties," Noda said. "Thank you!"

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To listen to the full interview, click here if the embed doesn't work.  




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Special thanks goes to the Melbourne Aces, Steven Smith, interpreter Machida-san and the Seibu Lions themselves for making this interview and story possible. A special thanks also goes to @shiba_scope for interpreting help. 

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Seibu Lions 2016 Season Review: Final FIP Report


In a year where the Saitama Seibu Lions finished fourth in the Pacific League in ERA, it seemed that the team's pitching was inconsistent as a whole. Now without Takayuki Kishi anchoring the staff as the team's ace, more questions surround the Lions in the pitching department.

Let's see if the FIP has any answers that can provide us with a vision for the 2017 season. For any further information on FIP, please check out my previous posts on the subject.

Note: Only pitchers with a certain sample size will be included in this post.

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Yusei Kikuchi (143.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.27
2016 ERA: 2.58
3 Year FIP: 3.47 (415.2 IP)

Kikuchi was the Lions innings leader for the 2016 season and the pitcher who will be touted as the team's ace when 2017 comes around. He provided his second consecutive good season in his relatively young career thanks to a strikeout rate that was at 8.0 K/9. He still struggles with walks as he posted a 4.2 BB/9 and there are questions to whether or not he'll ever keep his walk rate down below 3, but his talent is second to none on this staff.

Some will call him a bust because he didn't end up being the MLB Posting Baby that he was supposed to be back in high school, but this year proves that last year was not a fluke and he's finally starting to live up to his high ceiling. Another challenge for Kikuchi in 2017 will be staying healthy, as the Lions continue to struggle with finding a real workhorse on their staff. Kikuchi will be the one to most likely fill that need. The problem with that will be that his career high in innings is 143 and that's just simply not enough if the Lions want to play in the postseason next year.

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Takayuki Kishi (130.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.01
2016 ERA: 2.49
3 Year FIP: 3.07 (402.0 IP)

Look at those numbers. Life without Kishi will be difficult and there's no doubt about it. With that said, there is one question surrounding Kishi and that will be whether he can reverse the recent trend of injuries that he's dealt with the past couple seasons.

Kishi has not thrown more than 175 IP since 2014 and this was likely one factor that allowed Rakuten to bring Kishi back home to Sendai. When Kishi is on the field, there aren't a lot of pitchers who are better than him as he has shown a great pitching repertoire to go along with a veteran's knowledge that has allowed him to continue the success into his 30s.

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Kona Takahashi (118.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.98
2016 ERA: 4.42

The former Koshien Champion's first full professional season was one that was like the rest of the team: inconsistent. Things looked promising for the 19 year old, even on August 11th, his FIP stood at a solid 3.29, but then the struggles came and Takahashi finished the year in the bullpen.

It's unclear whether these struggles going into next season will dictate the narrative here, but I'm willing to bet that his struggles can be chalked up to inexperience and a career high in innings pitched. Both his strikeout and walk rates improved from his small sample size rates of 2015 and he already has 3 complete games in his short career for what it's worth. Like with any young pitcher, patience is needed with this young kid heading into his age 20 season.

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Ryoma Nogami (107.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 4.36
2016 ERA: 3.87
3 Year FIP: 4.41 (361.2 IP)

When it comes to FIP, Ryoma Nogami doesn't exactly have the stuff to light up the FIP tallies. He's far from overpowering, walks a good amount, and gives up the long ball which is simply a recipe for disaster in this exercise. When you look at his numbers, it's almost hard to believe that he's been able to keep a place on the ichi-gun, but instead he's found a way to stay up.

It's even more surprising that he was able to have a decent year when it comes to ERA in 2016, especially since he gave up more hits per nine innings than 2015 and had a higher walk rate. Part of this might be because he threw 26.2 less innings than in 2015 so maybe the sample size kept him from a fatter ERA. As a spot starter, there's definitely some value in having Nogami on the ichi-gun but any role more than that will likely be trouble for the Lions in 2017.

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Shinsaburo Tawata (98.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.37
2016 ERA: 4.38

It's not often where you see an FIP that is so far ahead of the ERA, but this can happen with a sample size of 98.2 IP. With that said, Lions scouts must be patting themselves on the back for what they saw out of Tawata in 2016. Once he settled into the season, he seemed dominant and showed that overpowering stuff that prompted the Lions to take him with their first pick last year.

The one game that shows Tawata's great improvement came here when Tawata pitched a 3-hit, complete game shutout at the Sapporo Dome. Tawata led all Lions starters with K/9 with a rate of 8.3 which will raise expectations for Tawata as he goes into his age 24 season.

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Kazuhisa Makita (78.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.28
2016 ERA: 1.72
3 Year FIP: 3.92 (387 IP)

The right-handed submarine pitcher was probably one of the Lions' best stories of 2016 as the man who provided stability for a bullpen that badly needed it. Norio Tanabe followed the trend set by Samurai Japan Manager Hiroki Kokubo (and his predecessor) who used Makita in a relief role and it was brilliant.

Makita barely punched out any batters, but he made sure to master the other elements of FIP as he barely walked anyone and kept the ball from flying out of the ballpark. Makita was used in many roles as a fireman, a long reliever and a setup man. Overall, he proved he could handle all of those roles.

His injury during the middle part of the year was one that really hampered the bullpen to be dysfunctional as a group and as a result, many games just simply couldn't get turned over to the closer Tatsushi Masuda without Makita. Makita will likely have a role on Samurai Japan during the World Baseball Classic and with his unique arm angle, he will definitely be a nice weapon for Kokubo to have in his back pocket. The question for 2017 will be how new manager, Hatsuhiko Tsuji will use him. He could head back to the rotation where he's had some success before, but with these great numbers, it's hard to argue how that would be the right decision.

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Hirotaka Koishi (74.2 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.84
2016 ERA: 3.74

The Lions' lefty reliever saw his first amount of a significant workload since his winter with the Melbourne Aces in 2012 where he pitched 35.1 innings. With that in mind, I don't think there was anyone out there who thought that Koishi would throw a significant amount of innings for the Lions in 2016 but sure enough, that's what happened.

With the Lions finding so many issues with their starters going deep into games, Koishi was one of the relievers who was asked to carry the low in usually low leverage innings. At times, Koishi would be asked to get a ground ball in a jam but in totality, he pitched relatively well. Whether or not Koishi has the stuff has the stuff to have a significant role with the Lions in 2017 is unlikely, but he'll certainly get an opportunity with his work in 2016. Like most of the Lions relievers, he does a great job of not allowing any home runs but his concerns will involve his walk rate which soared to 4.7 BB/9.

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Ken Togame (71.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 4.04
2016 ERA: 6.31
3 Year FIP: 4.21 (282.1 IP)

It was nothing short of a disastrous season for the three-quarter arm slot, right-hander and the causes for that season were a whole different issue than what we're used to with Togame. Last season, Togame was actually decent and probably was on the lucky side of things according to his FIP, but he gave up a whopping 19 home runs, while this season he only gave up 3.

This year, it was Togame's massive amount of hits given up that gave Togame all sorts of issues to go along with a career low in K/9 at 5.2, which was down a full point from the previous season. This suggests that Togame's stuff wasn't fooling anyone and he was getting hammered. With all that, Togame was sent to the bullpen where he made 8 appearances. If you look at the trends in Togame's inconsistent career, it would suggest that he will have a good season next year. He has not put two consistent years together, good or bad. If Togame doesn't find starts, it's difficult to see where he fits in with the 2017 Lions.

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Shota Takekuma (61.0 IP)
2016 FIP: 3.32
2016 ERA: 3.54
3 Year FIP: 3.54 (167 IP)

Probably one of the most underrated players on the Lions is Shota Takekuma. For the last couple seasons he has provided quality innings and probably has earned a bigger role in the Lions' 2017 bullpen.

This year, Takekuma improved his K/9 by two full points with a 7.8 and he also lowered his walk rate to 3.0, which was the lowest of his career. With those kind of numbers, you get to do more than just retire lefties. The only issue he faced this year was the long ball as he gave up a career high with five this season. Otherwise he would've posted even better numbers.

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Tatsushi Masuda (54.1 IP)
2016 FIP: 1.91
2016 ERA: 1.66
3 Year FIP: 2.40 (173 IP)

It's not a good look when your lefty specialist throws more innings than your best reliever. That's what happens when you're a closer on a bad team. Masuda recorded 28 saves and 47 games finished. That means there were 19 games where Masuda finished the game with no save situation and it is incredible. It would've been a good idea if Norio Tanabe had just thrown out the roles and just had Masuda come in earlier, but that wasn't to be.

For a little perspective, as a setup man the year before, Masuda threw 74.0 IP, that's almost 20 IP more than his total in 2016. You can't let Masuda rot in the bullpen during 2017, not with these crazy numbers. He does everything you want as a closer, he keeps the ball in the ballpark, he strikes guys out and doesn't walk anyone. Masuda posted the best K/9 of his career with an 8.8 last season but did see a rise in his walks at 2.5. Masuda should definitely be the closer in 2017, just as long as that role doesn't cut into his usage.

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Conclusion

With the 3 Year FIPs included, I think there's definitely a lot of information in this post. One thing I'll mention is that Kazuhisa Makita's 3 Year FIP is probably useless considering it includes most of the innings where he was pretty much just a starter. It's hard to rely on that information when he's likely going to be a starter from this day forward.

With my analysis, I've tried my best to use the numbers at the top as a starting point and then look at the more intricate stats to provide answers to those numbers. For some of these guys, it's just impossible to do so without a significant sample size, but we can do our best. All in all, just looking at the weird innings distribution of the 2016 Seibu Lions, the season was definitely a mess.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pianist plays Seibu Lions 2016 Ōendan songs


A Youtube user known as Dwayne27045 plays NPB songs for each season on every team. This person uploaded the 2016 edition and posted a lineup the Saitama Seibu Lions would use for this past year. 


Shown above is the video with Lions Oendan songs showing their projected lineup based on frequent pay. It is in the order as follows:

RF Yuji Kaneko

CF Shogo Akiyama

2B Hideto Asamura

1B Ernesto Mejia

3B Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura

DH/OF/C Tomoya Mori

LF Takumi Kuriyama

SS Nien Ting Wu (General Purpose Theme)

C Ginjiro Sumitani

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A few things to note about this edition:

-Nien Ting Wu doesn't have his own Ouenka song. There are several "generic" songs used for guys with little ichi-gun experience. An example of this was how Ernesto Mejia had a generic song for 2014 because he was a midseason pickup.  Multiple players have shared the generic purpose theme.  If you listen to the Orix edition, Shuhei Kojima, Kenya Wakatsuki and Masataka Yoshida had the same generic theme. 

-Mejia's theme was not fully played like the 2015 edition.  

-This is the first time Kaneko makes the cut as he became a leadoff hitter at times during the year. The full slow intro is played at the beginning.  

-In the Fighters' edition, the composer added the Fighers Hymn song (the theme the use during Lucky 7) at the end.  

-For the Chiba Lotte Marines edition, the composer inserted "Saburo" Omura's theme at the end as a tribute since he retired from baseball. 

-Listen to all 12 editions and other tidbits/archives here

Lions chance (and scoring) songs can be heard here. 


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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seibu Lions hope to "Catch the ALL" for 2017


The Saitama Seibu Lions gave their new motto for 2017 with "Catch the ALL" in December. New manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji also added the kanji 気 (ki) on the top right part of the poster which refers to team spirit.

At first sight, you might be thinking of Pokémon right away with this slogan.

The "つかみ獲れ" (Tsukami tore) is referring to seizing the opportunity. In this case, it most likely refers to the Lions defense, which needs improvement for the upcoming season. In 2016, the Lions led the league in errors with 101 in total. In some ways, an underlying interpretation for this motto should be "Catch the BALL" considering the how poorly the infield defense looked.

That isn't to say the defense was the only problem for the Lions in 2016. The reason for this error number had to do with pitchers lacking strikeouts as a whole, forcing them to put the ball in play. in 2015, it was the Lions defense that carried them with the same poor strikeout numbers.

At one point in 2016, the Lions had a 10-31 stretch which was more due to the lack of hitting than any other factor. Opposing teams figured them out and the Lions would often come up short by one hit or pitch in the middle of the season.

We here at Graveyard Baseball hope to do the same with our coverage of the Lions. There will be plenty of things to write about from the ups and downs that the team will go through.

Of course we want to see winning, but in perspective, progress on the field from Tsuji is all we can hope for. A new manager, young rotation, uncertain defense and inconsistent offense are the obvious issues that come about for 2017, but this team can compete.

The offense has the talent to hit, but can it do that on a consistent basis?  Pitching will be raw with guys like Shinsaburo Tawata, Kona Takahashi and a young Tatsuya Imai, but can the imports make a difference and help the depth? Can Tsuji's coaching help the defense which was hard to watch in 2016?

Only time will tell on these questions, but even in 2017, not all of them will be answered. There is a mix of youth and veterans on this Lions squad and we expect them to at least aim for A-Class, even if its against all odds. Welcome back Tsuji, the work is cut out for you.

Ganbare Raionzu!  /  頑張れ ライオンズ!  

Happy New Year Japan / 明けましておめでとうございます 日本! (Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu Nippon!)


The Lions uploaded a video with the players saying "Happy New Year" with the goals and promises for the 2017 season.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Seibu Lions 2016 Review: Position players


The Saitama Seibu Lions had their ups and downs in 2016. This included hitting, pitching and defense with flaws at different points of the year.

Here, we will review the position players and give them a grade. For stats, we will post the slashline of Batting Average / On base Percentage / Slugging. FIP and pitchers will be examined later.

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Catchers: 

Ginjiro Sumitani: .218/.251/.269

"Gin-chan" had a rough season defensively besides at the plate. Of course he isn't known for his bat and will continue to be a hole. There was a point where he would come in as a defensive replacement in games during the second half of the season. Grade: D

Masatoshi Okada: .227/.338/.227

Okada only saw 47 games as a backup catcher, which was more than last year, but still very minor. Norio Tanabe would use him as a defensive substitution if a pinch hitter took over Sumitani's spot in a given game. He would also be a pinch bunter on occasion.  Grade: D

C/OF Tomoya Mori: .292/.367/.436

Mori started the year without a position. He had a few games in right field, but was mostly seen as a pinch hitter until the Lions sent him down to ni-gun. Mori had less pop with less games, but wasn't bad when given a chance. In the second half of the year when the Lions were all but eliminated, he was getting more catcher reps and did well progressing with time. The Lions could no longer hide him as a designated hitter and were forced to put him in the field somewhere. If Mori can impress new manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji, he could get more catcher playing time. Grade: B-

Tatsuyuki Uemoto: .305/.361/.386

Uemoto made the opening day roster and stayed on top for the year. He was the ultimate pinch hitter late in the game when needed and did a decent job of not getting out. While he wouldn't hit home runs, he could slap a single and keep the bases moving. With his flexibility at catcher, Tanabe was able to use him in the field if necessary as well.  Grade: B+

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Infielders: 

1B Ernesto Mejia: .252/.333/.509

Mejia had a much improved 2016 from a brutal 2015 season with a great first half. He started to fall off in the final two months and lacked power once the All-Star break concluded, however, it is a vast upgrade. He had a career high 35 home runs and was close to being the Pacific League's home run king. Unfortunately, Mejia only had 8 HRs total in the second half which was lacking. He would also see more time at DH than 2015. Grade: B

2B Hideto Asamura: .309/.357/.510

Will the real Asamura step up? This was the best season Asamura had since 2013, which is arguably his peak season. He had 24 home runs at 40 doubles, even earning a monthly honor as the MVP for August in the Pacific League. He's shown that he can hit, but putting it together for a full season outside of 2013 had been an issue. After a slow April, he took off and was the best hitter for the 2nd half of the Lions season.  Asamura's defense was also valuable at 2B.  Grade: A

3B/DH Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura: .238/.313/.447

This was a brutal year for Okawari-kun. He would spent about a month in ni-gun after being ineffective and possibly not conditioned well. In the past, he has been known to be injury prone and this year showed it was no different. An argument can be made that he's the player who can make or break the Lions and the offense took a large hit when he was ineffective. One silver lining in all of this is that he played in 108 games for the season, making it the first time in his career he appeared in at least 100+ games for three consecutive years. He still had 21 home runs, but it wasn't the season he hoped for as the team tried making him a DH. It's unsure whether this will continue or not under Tsuji.  Grade: C-

SS/3B Yuji Onizaki: .253/.314/.332

Onizaki was the BABIP king and his average was rather higher than usual. He would get majority of the luck on balls put in play. Results offensively were there, but defensively, he had issues at both 3B and SS when in 2015 he showed that was his strength. With his defense bring a problem, he only played in 79 games.  Grade: C

SS/3B Shuta Tonosaki: .176/.222/.294

Tonosaki was supposed to be a more promising future shortstop after getting his feet wet in 2015. Like a lot of the team, his defense was an issue and he couldn't hit his own weight, making him mostly a pinch runner in 37 games. He was also ineffective on the base paths when given the chance. Tonosaki is still young, but there's competition behind him. Grade: D-

UTIL Naoto Watanabe: .309/.352/.348

Watanabe was your utility infielder playing each position at least once. He is a decent spell player and was good in bunches where Tanabe clearly saw matchups on when to play him. I would argue Watanabe was the second best pinch hit option behind Uemoto and his defense was acceptable for 2016. Only problem for him was that he couldn't play every day.  Grade: B+ 

1B/SS/3B Shogo Kimura: .221/.262/.263

The Lions had an obsession with playing Kimura in the first half, giving him more time than Watanabe. He was versatile to play three positions on the infield, but was average at best. His bat wasn't reliable and Watanabe proved to be a better option comparing the two. In June, he would tear his ACL in practice and was brought back under an ikusei contact.  Grade: D-

SS/3B Kyohei Nagae: .162/.213/.176

Anyone who watches the Lions knows that Nagae's role is not about hitting. He's the best defensive infielder for the Lions and he proved that once again when playing SS or 3B. There was only one play that was a borderline error when he lost a flyball in the sun, but he was perfect at fielding ground balls and didn't cause problems while in the field. Tanabe continued to use him as a defensive substitute and whenever he started, there was an emphasis on defense. Grade: B+

2B/3B Daichi Mizuguchi: .500/.500/.500

Mizuguchi saw 20 games and most of them were off the bench. A former ikusei pick, he would be a helpful pinch running option when with the ichi-gun. He would remain mostly buried with other infielders in front of him on the depth chart. Sample size is too small to really have a grade, but he didn't have a base running blunder like some.  Grade: Incomplete

SS/3B Nien Ting Wu: .194/.282/.234

Wu was the Lions 7th round pick in 2015 and he started playing ichi-gun games in the second half after a good season in ni-gun. For a shortstop, his defense was rather impressive and he wasn't a liability in the field. His bat can use some work, but he had a few "big hits" that Lions fans will remember and he even experienced what a hero interview was like. For a guy who was drafted in the late rounds, playing in 43 ichi-gun games (and starting most of them) is quite an accomplishment. Grade: B-

Hotaka Yamakawa: .259/.335/.590

Yamakawa was a Spring Training star and it earned him a spot on the opening day roster. He was 0-11 and was sent down to ni-gun, where he hit 21 HRs. Yamakawa had an impressive second half, where had 14 HRs in only 49 games, including four in a three-game series against the Chiba Lotte Marines. Once he had the hang of playing at the ichi-gun level, he was fun to watch in a short time and he finished strong. Defense was acceptable, but not great.  Grade: B

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Outfielders:

Shogo Akiyama: .296/.385/.422

If Akiyama didn't spent two weeks as the No.3 hitter in the lineup, he would've hit .300 easily. Coming off a historic record-breaking season, Akiyama was still solid at getting on base and providing hits as a leadoff hitter. He was also acceptable when hitting from the No. 2 spot. Surprisingly, he had more home runs (11) than Mori (10). Akiyama was the only Lions player to play in every inning for 2016. Grade: A-

Takumi Kuriyama: .279/.390/.369

Kuriyama had a strong first half which carried him to his first All-Star game in 2016. He led the team in walks with 83 which explains his rather high on-base percentage. He traded spots with Akiyama for the leadoff spot and at one point was the team's hottest hitter. Defense was above average as he made a few impressive plays to save some runs.  Grade: B+

Yuji Kaneko: .265/.331/.311

Kaneko's defense was poor at SS through the first two months and Tanabe's solution was to put him in right field, where he appeared there the most. He would be a solid No. 9 hitter and even saw time as the leadoff hitter. Kaneko tied Yoshio Itoi for the NPB stolen base crown with 53 in total. If his defense didn't cost the Lions games in the first half, he did everything you want in a No. 9 hitter. It is unknown what the plans are as Tsuji takes the reigns. Grade: B+ 

Shogo Saito: .000/.077/.000

Saito saw only 45 games at the ichi-gun level after being the 4th outfielder in 2015. He failed to get a hit and had some time as a pinch runner if not defensive replacement. Saito wasn't a problem in the outfield, but he had a few base running errors that hurt the Lions.  Grade: D-

Ryo Sakata: .245/.280/.371

Sakata won the RF job out of spring training and preseason. After doing well for three weeks, he fell back to earth but racked up quite a few important RBIs when with the ichi-gun. Sakata is likely to be good in bunches, but only for a designed matchup. Grade: C

Fumikazu Kimura: .167/.219/.200

A former pitcher converted to position player, Kimura is a 5th outfielder at best.  He only played in 28 ichi-gun games and most of them were as a late defensive replacement. Grade: D

Masato Kumashiro: .167/.286/.167

Like F. Kimura, Kumashiro is a depth outfielder on the bench who is there in case of emergency. Kumashiro had better range than Kimura, but he also doesn't hit as well. Grade: D+ 

Naotaka Takehara: .200/.226/.333

Takehara was viewed as another depth option when the Lions signed him. He was good for a few pinch hits and should've had a game winning base hit in one outing. However, his contributions were minimal as he only appeared in 22 games, with all of them in the first half. Grade: F

Shotaro Tashiro: .250/.250/.250

Tashiro is mostly a pinch runner who is there as roster filler when an extended break is ahead. He appeared in only 13 games, but one of them is where he was remembered for being picked off by Shota Ono as he was supposed to be the game-tying run. This ruined momentum at the time, but the sample size isn't large enough for a grade. Grade: Incomplete

Yutaro Osaki: .000/.167/.000

As a veteran, Osaki is usually called up if the Lions like a pitching matchup they see. However, he only appeared in four games for 2016 and failed to record a hit. Last year, we saw contributions but 2016 was a sign of regression.  Grade: Incomplete

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Conclusion:

Some guys did well and others didn't. The 41-game stretch which was after the walkoff loss in Hiroshima (Uemoto blocking the plate) is what ruined the hitting. They went 10-31 including that loss and it took them too long to recover in order to compete for A-class. Asamura and Akiyama had good years, but it was disappointing as a whole when Okawari-kun couldn't stay on top while the team remained unclutch in those 41 games.

The defense was flawed, no question, but it only hurt them through April/May. It wasn't as brutal as the numbers and stats indicate. The only good news was how the Lions played their best baseball in August/September where we saw some fun games and the bats finally woke up. Defense was also improved at the time besides the pitching which is also a work in progress.  In 2017, the Lions will need the Osaka Toin trio of Asamura, Okawari-kun and Mori to all have good or great seasons if they want to make A-class.

Tsuji will put an emphasis on defense, but at what cost? Will we see more bunting? Will there be less home runs as a result? Time will tell.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Report: Hisanobu Watanabe promoted to organization director

Photo credit: Sponichi
The Saitama Seibu Lions will have a new structure for 2017 in the front office. Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe has been promoted to being the organizational director, the Lions announced on Monday.

General manager Haruhiko Suzuki said that there needed to be "accountability" for the last three seasons of finishing in B-class (Bottom 3 in the Pacific League). Suzuki, 65, will keep his position being in charge of the Lions personnel moves.

With this promotion for Nabe-Q, it's clear he will be in line to be the full-time general manager in the future. It's possible that both Nabe-Q and Suzuki will have to agree on making decisions together in the front office for the time being.

When Nabe-Q stepped down after 2013 as a manager, he had Tetsuya Shiozaki in line to replace him. Suzuki refused to follow through with this and hired Haruki Ihara for 2014, who would later resign in the middle of the year. Norio Tanabe would take over for the rest of the season and be in charge for both 2015 and 2016.

For the hiring process of Hatsuhiko Tsuji, Nabe-Q had more of an influence in the decision and gave his approval. Suzuki said there is a "good chance" that Nabe-Q will take the reigns when he steps down.

This move overall is just another transition for the direction of the Lions front office.

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